If ever you find yourself in China, head out to a park early in the morning. You’re likely to see groups of people doing slow movements or different exercises. Most of them are practicing qigong, which has roots in some of China’s more ancient systems for self-cultivation—systems meant to temper and improve a person’s nature, physically and spiritually.
After the violence of the Cultural Revolution, qigong began to have mass appeal. Many of the true systems had been passed down from master to disciple through generations, but in order to popularize qigong, qigong masters did not impart the ancient systems in their fullness. People were taught how to cure their illnesses and keep their bodies healthy.
Qigong was mostly practiced by elderly people or anyone who had illnesses beyond the help of Western medicine. But this began changing when Falun Gong was brought to the public on May 13, 1992. In November of that year, a woman named Ruijing Mi had attended a workshop on the practice given by its founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi.
“After the first day of the workshop, I walked home almost like I was drifting in the clouds,” said Ms. Ruijing. “I was very, very light.”
Ms. Ruijing now lives in New York. Although she’s in her mid-50s you’d never guess. Her face is clear, without wrinkles, and she has a soft smile and kind glint in her eyes. She spoke to The Epoch Times through a translator.
“When I was little, I was very interested in all kinds of myths, and there was a lot of wisdom from cultivation in them,” she said. Having studied the I-Ching, a type of Chinese mysticism based on how events in the universe correspond to events on earth, she said, “I learned a lot, but felt the I-Ching didn’t give the ultimate answer, and I was still looking for a good answer.”
Her sister, who regularly attended qigong classes, had recently gone to a workshop on Falun Gong, and piqued Ms. Ruijing’s interest in going to the next workshop in Beijing. “She said compared to all other qigong exercises this is the best, so she stopped all the other qigong exercises,” she said.
That day in China changed her life. She refers to Mr. Li as “Shifu,” a Chinese term roughly meaning “respected teacher.”
“On the spot, in the workshop, Shifu tuned everyone’s body. Everyone came out and said they never felt their bodies so light and clean. We really felt the state of a body without any illness,” she said.
“I felt my whole perspective on the world and life had totally changed. It was like being a new person,” she said.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, was different from other qigong practices being taught. Aside from its calming exercises and profound heath benefits, the practice is based on moral principles. Practitioners should try to become more honest, think of others before themselves, and care less about conflicts with others.
After the workshops, Mr. Li attended the Oriental Health Expo in 1992—an annual gathering of qigong masters and people well versed in Chinese medicine. Ms. Ruijing went along, and saw how the practice spread from there.
Her father, who retired just one rank below general in the Chinese military, had suffered from Bell’s palsy for close to 20 years. He went to see Mr. Li, who was tuning people’s bodies while talking about the practice, at the expo, “and in two minutes it was gone,” Ms. Ruijing said.
Her father told other retired military officials about the practice who lived near him in military housing, and nearly a dozen of them started to practice in a nearby park each morning.
“Because a lot of people liked to do the morning exercises outdoors, when we played the music they were attracted, and so it started to grow,” she said. Eventually there were so many people, they had to move the practice to a sports field across the way.
Eventually, Ms. Ruijing said, “It wasn’t just that one stadium. There were four or five other big stadiums or big parks, and all the different major companies had big spaces, and they were all filled with people doing the exercises.”
Because many people working in the cities were from the countryside, after learning, they would go home and teach others to practice, “So it got spread all over the country,” she said.
She noted that in 1994, an elderly Taiwanese couple came to learn the practice in Jinan, and “After that, it started to spread in Taiwan.”
Between 1992 and 1999, Falun Gong grew to having more than 100 million people practicing, according to a state poll.
“It was like that in China. One person would learn and then spread it all around,” Ms. Ruijing said. “By word of mouth, it spread to every corner of China.”
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